When we have a need for a product (new outfit, cleaning products, etc) or service (home maintenance or repair, dentist, doctor, lawyer), we pull out our smart phone and enter what we are looking for into Google. As consumers, we may do this several times a day in the same way we look for information on any particular topic.
Google Maps is more powerful in recent years and it will forever be changing. Google Maps now gives you the top places near you that sell the product or service you are looking for. The companies you are most likely to use appear in the top three spots when you search. Many Google searches now specify a geographic area. Most of the time, consumers choose one of these top three places in the area closest to them.
Even a normal Google search for “book stores” or “restaurants” brings up a map of your area and a list of three businesses matching your search term, commonly known as the “snack-pack.” These are listed along with driving directions, an address, a phone number, a link to a company website, and the hours open. That “snack-pack” has now been cut from three businesses to two.
Google Maps is not just a tool for consumers, but an important marketing tool for businesses and SEO marketing companies. In recent years, businesses raced and competed against each other for those top three spots. Of course, any business with good website SEO (search engine optimization) and good business reviews can get themselves listed on Google in a certain category within a geographic area, but most are further down the list. The user or consumer must click on “more places”and scroll down to find your business. The higher up you are on the list, the more business you are likely to receive.
The competition for the top spots on Google Maps is getting more stiff. Not long ago, seven businesses appeared when a consumer conducted a search for a service or product. Eventually, that number was cut down to three in order to fit the size of the screen most smart phones have. Now, only two businesses will be able to rate in the top search results organically.
A date has not yet been released; however, Google Maps announced that it will soon start selling the top spot to any business willing to pay for the privilege. The top spot will be labeled “ad” and leave only two visible spots for other businesses to rank organically. The quality of the business, the quality of the business website, or the satisfaction of the business’ customers will not matter for the top spot.
Most of Google’s features come absolutely free to users, whether they use a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Google makes their money strictly with advertisements. Possibly the only people who will benefit from this change are Google and the companies that can afford to pay top dollar for the top spot in the snack-pack. Advertisers are charged on a cost-per-click basis for a local Google search. Charges are paid when consumers click on:
Consumers looking for the best quality businesses will have a harder time finding them and will be inundated with more ads for every Google search they make. More businesses will use cheap, misleading tactics in order to achieve a high-ranking on Google. SEO and marketing companies will face a greater challenge of getting their clients in the top ranking spots on Google Maps. Small businesses with small marketing budgets will be squeezed out of the top spots.
Nearly one third of all Google searches are specific to geographic location. Most sales still happen inside stores and businesses and not online. Consumers want to know what is closest to them.
The look of Google Maps will change too. Anytime customers Google for directions to any location, they will see promoted pins along their route, along with company logos. Even if you just Google directions to a friend’s home, for instance, you will see if there is a Starbucks or McDonald’s along your route.
When users click on these locations on their device, they see a page with directions to the store, an option to call, and the hours the store is open. Any in-store promotions will show when any search is performed. AdWords is also expanding the space allowed for text on the screen for any specific business. Consumers will know a lot more about a business and the products available before they ever enter a store or office.
Deals will also be visible to consumers. Local stores can advertise deals on specific products, such as three dollars off a certain brand of cleaning products. Customers often do not visit stores in person when they believe that the store does not carry the product they are looking for. Google will give access to the store inventory online, if available, and any sales at a particular store in a geographic area.
Hotels, for instance, are now listed along with the price of reserving a room. A box labeled “deal” may show up when the price is either less than other rooms in that specific hotel or less than the price of hotel rooms in similar brands. Google says that the presence of a deal does not advance your ranking in the search; it just appears to inform the consumer that there is a deal.
The line between what we do in the outside world and how we use the computers, tablets, and smart phones available to us is continuing to blur. Google continues to change all of its features to reach more consumers. Consumers and businesses may not like some of these changes; however, there is no way to turn them off on your device. Businesses need to plan now for this and make the necessary changes to their website in order to compete with the new Google Maps feature.